Sachs’ candidacy sets stage for public debate over Bank reform

CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot  yesterday issued a statement supporting  Jeffrey Sachs’ reform candidacy for the World Bank. Reform is the operative word here. It is the nature of Sachs’ candidacy – the changes he proposes for what the World Bank does, coupled with his undeniable credentials – that makes his candidacy “unprecedented” and important.

Sachs’ candidacy sets the stage for a public debate over the issues that World Bank reform advocates consider most important, from poverty to climate change to the rights of communities affected by World Bank-funded projects to have a say in what happens to them and their environment. This is debate that all World Bank reformers should welcome.

What seems most important at this juncture is to have a competitive process – an actual presidential race of sorts. The fact that a candidate with the experience and skills that Sachs has could “run”, quite publicly, with his desire for the presidency well known to everyone, and still be passed up in the end in an arbitrary, secretive decision by the White House would only highlight the utterly undemocratic nature of World Bank governance. The U.S. has effective veto power, and one of its traditional privileges has been the power to choose the World Bank president. The European members get to choose the Managing Director of the equally undemocratic IMF.

Of course it is high time, after over 60 years of American World Bank presidents, for the world to take seriously the idea that the President of the World Bank could come from the developing world.  Such candidates should also put their candidacy forward. A “crowded field” is nothing to fear here – the more ideas for what could and should be done to reform the Bank, the better. The more candidates that show what qualifications could be possible in a World Bank president, the better. All of these will only demonstrate what has been lacking in World Bank chiefs so far – and what is likely to be lacking in them, if the White House and G20 governments opt for “business as usual”.

But if the Obama administration plans to keep with past precedent and again choose an American, then Sachs is one American well qualified for the job, and one who has a chance to bring “change we can believe in”.